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Tuesday, October 27, 2020

(Peer) group influence on children's prosocial and antisocial behavior

A. Misch & Y. Dunham


This study investigates the influence of moral in- vs. outgroup behavior on 5-6 and 8-9-year-olds' own moral behavior (N=296). After minimal group assignment, children in Experiment 1 observed adult ingroup or outgroup members engaging in prosocial sharing or antisocial stealing, before they themselves had the opportunity to privately donate stickers or take away stickers from others. Older children shared more than younger children, and prosocial models elicited higher sharing. Surprisingly, group membership had no effect. Experiment 2 investigated the same question using peer models. Children in the younger age group were significantly influenced by ingroup behavior, while older children were not affected by group membership. Additional measures reveal interesting insights into how moral in- and outgroup behavior affects intergroup attitudes, evaluations and choices.

From the Discussion

Thus, while results of our main measure generally support the hypothesis that children are susceptible to social influence, we found that children are not blindly conformist; rather, in contrast to previous research (Wilks et al., 2019) we found that conformity to antisocial behavior was low in general and restricted to younger children watching peer models.  Vulnerability to peer group influence in younger children has also been reported in previous studies on conformity (Haun & Tomasello, 2011; Engelmann et al., 2016) as well as research demonstrating a primacy of group interests over moral concerns (Misch et al., 2018). Thus, our study highlights the younger age group as a time in children’s development in which they seem to be particularly sensitive to peer influences, for better or worse, perhaps indicating a sort of “sensitive period” in which children are working to extract the norms embedded in peer behavior.